A local man’s 40-year journey in aikido
by Terrence Barber
You never know who could be a martial arts master. Popular belief might be to assume that black belts are walking weapons, able to strike at a moment’s notice. While true in some cases, this can be an overstatement.
Meet Darrell Tangman, a 65-year-old retired computer programmer and sixth dan (degree) black belt aikido practitioner. Tangman is the head instructor of the Augusta Aikido Club that meets at Adas Yeshurun Synagogue at 935 Johns Road. Born near Chicago, Tangman attended Michigan State University with plans of becoming a high school math teacher, with a minor in French education. However things did not go as planned, which would happen frequently Tangman’s life
“I ended up absolutely hating college-level French,” Tangman said. “It was probably the least-pleasant class I had to take in college or grad school. My second quarter at Michigan State I was walking to the second quarter of French literature and realized I can’t do this.”
Tangman promptly dropped the class and enrolled in a computer science course, first to maintain full-time student status, and secondly because his roommate seemed to enjoy them. Tangman would later graduate with his math degree and enough credits to have a minor in computer science, had the degree existed at the time. When Tangman went to the University of Illinois for graduate school, however, he was able to pursue his degree in computer science, as well as start his journey into aikido. Tangman joined the Aikido Club and began to study under Professor Taitetsu Unno.
“Casting my mind back about 40 years, mostly I was just nervous when I started,” Tangman said. “I was kind of intimidated by the falls and by the complexity of the movements. Probably about six months into training, I realized I had fun when I was taking falls. Then I realized I was enjoying both sides and then I was hooked. Forty years later, I am still hooked.”
So what exactly is aikido? Loosely translated, it is “the way of the harmonious spirit.” When witnessed in motion, aikido techniques involve soft, circular motions that rely on movement for the attack. Force is not met with force, but it is an opportunity to get an attacker enough off balance to throw and/or pin them.
“In aikido, the only time a technique should injure somebody is if they’re actively resisting it,” Tangman said. “If they give up soon enough, they should always have a safe way out. There are some of the techniques where the founder specifically modified them with that goal in mind. ”
Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido and affectionately referred to as O-sensei or great teacher, started his martial arts journey learning jujutsu (the father martial art of aikido, judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu), as well as studying sumo, judo, kendo and bayonet techniques, according to “This Is Aikido,” written by Koichi Tohei, a student of Ueshiba who would later become the highest ranking aikido practitioner after Ueshiba’s death.
Ueshiba took great care in modifying techniques that were meant to injure and break limbs into soft techniques that allow an attacker to be subdued with little to no harm. In aikido, the wellbeing of the person receiving the technique, or the uke, is of great importance.
“Part of what aikido is meant to develop is a sense of feeling with the people around you,” Tangman said. “It’s not aimed at winning the contest. Generally in aikido training you are trying to perfect your technique, movement and attitude toward the practice. The practice becomes a way for two people to work together harmoniously.”
He said that harmony should carry over into daily life.
“It should get to the point where when someone is throwing a punch at you, you don’t approach it as something you have to overcome,” he said. “This is just what you do. Instead of, ‘He said something rude to me, so now I have to say something rude back,’ it’s, ‘He said something rude to me; I wonder why he did that?’”
Tangman said that he does not consciously teach that side of aikido, but it is something that can be learned through practice.
“I think it’s helped for when I’m in situations that might become contentious,” Tangman said. “It’s a little easier to stay relaxed and not get upset. But I’m 65 years old, so I don’t know how much of that is 40 years of aikido trying and how much of that is being 40 years older than I was.”
Throughout those 40 years, Tangman has found himself as an instructor in many aikido dojos, first at Twin Cities Aikido Center in Minnesota, then the Aikido Center of Atlanta, where he still instructs on Sunday afternoons. After moving to Augusta 20 years ago, Tangman became a part of the Augusta Aikido Club.
Tangman said that he never had any plans of becoming an aikido instructor, but often times finds himself to be the most senior student where he goes, and thus becomes an instructor. Tangman did jokingly lament that aikido is the closest that he ever got to becoming a teacher, his biggest influence being Akira Tohei, named a shihan, or master of aikido in the ’60s and a once a student of Koichi Tohei.
“He would demonstrate the technique half a dozen times, make a couple of comments then…go!” Tangman said. “Some of that is a deliberate effort to get students to pay attention.”
He said that instructors don’t teach aikido as much as they make it available.
“If you want to learn aikido, you have to take it because we ultimately can’t teach you aikido anyways,” he said. “The techniques vary based on relative strength and size. If you’re going to teach you have to know all of that, but if you’re learning, you have to figure out what works for you and your body and your mindset. It requires a very active mindset from the student aside from the obvious.”You Might Also Like: